The 1917 explosion of a munitions ship was a defining moment for Halifax. It was a tragic and disastrous event that also produced its share of folklore, such as babies who survived flight through the air by landing in trees. Many of these are too fanciful to be true, but St. Paul’s Church, the oldest building in town, bears the scars to prove its incredible tales.
The church, founded in 1749, was several miles from the explosion, but the blast traveled at a pace of 3,300 feet in a single second. It was the largest man-made explosion of all time before the atom bomb, and its effects were felt as far away as Prince Edward Island; needless to say, Halifax was devastated. St. Paul’s windows were blown out, and a piece of window frame remains embedded in the entryway with a plaque that reads, “A Relic of the Explosion.”
The face in the window is the most mysterious artifact from the disaster though. As the story goes, at the moment of the explosion the deacon was standing directly parallel to a window facing the Narrows. The intense heat of the explosion etched his profile on the glass for all time (no word on what happened to the clergyman himself). Another more macabre version tells that a sailor’s decapitated head flew through the window with such force that it made a clean incision through the glass.
Whatever the cause of the silhouette, it remains a popular oddity at the historic church. Despite attempts to clean the glass over the years, the face in the window remains.
Know Before You Go
Downtown Halifax is for walking and the church is on axis with the clock tower where the cannon goes off every day at noon.